Drowota Reflects on Receiving Award Named in His Honor

LESLEY J. GUDEHUS | Special to The Daily News

"I definitely don't define success by money, and I don't think any judges do that because they are public servants. I have found the judiciary (to be) a rewarding way of life because of the service aspect of it."
- Frank F. Drowota III
Name: Frank F. Drowota III
Position: Retired Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court
Basics: Drowota, who retired last year, recently was the first to receive an award named after him. It honored his years in the state judiciary, and will be open each year to a judge who shows similar dedication.

The Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) recently honored former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank F. Drowota III with its inaugural Justice Frank F. Drowota III Award for Outstanding Judicial Service. The TBA will present the award annually to a Tennessee judge who demonstrates outstanding and dedicated service to the bench and bar.

Drowota retired in 2005 after 35 years of judicial service. He served on the state's highest court for 25 years following 10 years as a judge for the Davidson County Chancery Court (1970 to 1974) and the Tennessee Court of Appeals (1974 to 1980). After graduating from Nashville's Vanderbilt University, Drowota served as a naval officer for two years before entering law school. He completed his law degree at Vanderbilt in 1965.

Drowota has served on the boards of a variety of organizations including the YMCA, American Red Cross, the Nashville Rotary Club, Nashville's Montgomery Bell Academy prep school, the Cumberland Museum and Science Center, the Frist Foundation and Vanderbilt's Bill Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences. In the last year, Drowota chaired a TBA program to ensure fair and ethical judicial campaigns and helped develop a code of conduct to govern judicial campaigns, available at http://www.tba.org/judicialcampaign. He lives in Nashville.

Q: How do you feel about receiving an award named after you?

A: It came as a surprise to me. It was presented at the annual luncheon [held during the TBA's 2006 convention in Memphis in June], and I almost didn't make it there. I'm glad I did! My father spent 50 years of his life as a minister. I think some people expected me to remain on the bench that long. I retired after 35 years, and I used my 35 years on the bench to do public service work within and outside the judiciary.

Q: Why did you decide to become a lawyer?

A: I studied political science and history [as an undergraduate student] at Vanderbilt. At the time, I didn't know whether I was going into the law or the ministry, but I went on to Vanderbilt Law School after two years [in the Navy]. I was originally from Kentucky, but my family moved to Nashville when I was 5, so I was educated in Nashville. My father was the [founding] minister of [Woodmont] Christian Church in Nashville. Back then, my family and friends thought I was going to go into the ministry, but my father said one should not go into the ministry without hearing the call. While I was in the Navy [after college], I represented other servicemen in court-martials [and other cases] and enjoyed it, so I decided on law school.

Q: What was the chronology of your law career?

A: After law school, I went right into practice. In 1970, I was appointed to the Chancery Court of Davidson County by Gov. Buford Ellington. Then in 1974, Gov. Winfield Dunn appointed me to the state Court of Appeals. In 1980, one member of the [state] Supreme Court died and I ran in the statewide election and was elected that year. In 1982, the entire court was running, so I ran again. Then I ran again in 1990 and 1998. I was in the Supreme Court for 25 years, and a total of 35 years in the judiciary.

Q: What does the word "success" mean to you?

A: I definitely don't define success by money, and I don't think any judges do that because they are public servants. I have found the judiciary [to be] a rewarding way of life because of the service aspect of it. Both the Memphis Bar Association and the Tennessee Bar Association have pro bono programs, and even though lawyers have the opportunity to make money from their other cases, they often get more satisfaction out of serving others [through pro bono work].